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New Appeals Ruling on Sharon Helman Underscores Urgent Need for VA Accountability Legislation

By Concerned Veterans for America

Arlington, VA – Today the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the expedited removal and appeals authority granted by the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 is unconstitutional. The ruling was made in regards to the case of Helman v. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Sharon Helman was the director at the VA facility in Phoenix, Arizona at the time of the infamous VA wait list scandal of 2014, in which it was uncovered that employees at the Phoenix VA were intentionally manipulating wait time data. The wait list manipulation caused delays in care for thousands of veterans, and many may have died waiting for care under Helman’s watch. Helman was placed on administrative leave a couple weeks after the scandal broke and was terminated over half a year later.

The Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) is now reviewing the administrative judge’s decision to uphold Sharon Helman’s removal from the Phoenix VA, which occurred in November of 2014 in the midst of the Phoenix wait list scandal.

Concerned Veterans for America (CVA) Policy Director Dan Caldwell issued the following statement:

“This is a sad example of how convoluted and absurd the VA’s current personnel policies are. Sharon Helman personally oversaw one of the worst VA scandals in American history and is a felon serving probation for crimes she committed while Phoenix VA director. The grounds for Helman’s termination should be unquestionable.

“Secretary Shulkin is emphatically asking Congress to give him the authority to lawfully take decisive and meaningful action to terminate bad VA employees. We urge the Senate to move on strong accountability measures like the VA Accountability First Act, which will empower the VA Secretary with the ability to rapidly fire criminal employees like Sharon Helman and to take back their undeserved bonuses. We should no longer debate whether or not poorly performing or even criminal VA employees should remain on the VA’s payroll. Veterans will continue suffering until Congress acts.” 

VA Secretary Shulkin issued a statement today calling on Congress to pass strong accountability measures quickly. 

CVA supports the VA Accountability First Act of 2017, a bill introduced by Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) which passed the House with bipartisan support earlier this year. The bill will empower Secretary Shulkin with the ability to quickly fire bad VA employees, recoup bonuses awarded to employees who engage in misconduct, and strengthen protections for whistleblowers who speak up about wrongdoings in the department.

Helman’s termination was upheld in 2015 based on findings that she improperly accepted gifts from lobbyists but Helman was able to retain her last major bonus from the VA. Helman pled guilty filing false financial disclosure documents, a felony.

The Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 was passed as a short term, temporary response to the Phoenix wait list scandal of 2014.